Tag Archives: jack benny

DVR Alert: Broadway Melody of 1936 (19something) and Robert Wildhack

30 Jun

bway 1936Tomorrow (Sunday) morning on TCM at 6:00 a.m., Broadway Melody of 1936 begins. It ends about an hour and forty minutes later, with you none the wiser (“If tomorrow is opening night, why is all the cast, including the choreographer and the producer, performing in a floor show across town?!?”) but much happier. Eleanor Powell’s French accent, too, is a surreal delight.

But I don’t think I need to add anything about Jack Benny, Robert (“Boy, he’s pretty.” – My Wife) Taylor, Eleanor (“Boy, she’s pretty.”  – Me) Powell or Buddy & Vilma Ebsen (during who’s dances you’ll think just once at random, “Barnaby Jones, ladies and gentlemen”). And the Freed/Brown score is filled with songs you already know from Singin’ In the Rain. So instead let’s talk for a moment about Robert Wildhack.

Robert Wildhack used to host a radio show in the early 1930s, according to the IMDB. He also did comic monologues in vaudeville (I’m assuming the snoring routine from this one was in his pocket from those days)  and was also a poster painter, responsible for things like:

and:wildhack

Lovely, no? And you thought he was just the snoring guy. More fascinating info here  and here about Wildhack.

I mention all this only because little turns like these and the people who performed them are the only record we have of the majority of vaudeville’s performers. This is our heritage, kiddoes…the Snoring Guy. (I kid. It’s a pretty solid act.)

DVR Alert: To Be or Not to Be(1942)

23 Jun

To Be or Not To Be1I just noticed that To Be or Not to Be is on TCM at something ridiculous like 5:15 a.m. tomorrow (or tonight or however you look at that). If you’ve never…it’s just a beautiful thing. Forgetting even Jack Benny and Carole Lombard for a second, forget about it being right next to The Great Dictator as one of the finest WWII comedies made during the war itself… and remember Felix Bressart.

bressartIt is entirely possible that I am the only person besides Felix Bressart’s mother for whom he, in box office terms, could open a movie. But if Bressart is in it, I’m watching it. A magnificent character actor, not exclusively but usually comic. I’ve noted his magic before, but I just took a cursory spin past his IMDB page and seem to have seen something like 15 of his performances. Tip of the iceberg. And the hat. “A laugh is nothing to sneeze at.”

So, To Be or Not to Be. You deserve it. Perhaps I’ll go in depth later about why Benny’s dad stormed out of the movie the first time, but for now, just take a(nother) look.

Looking Backward: The Great Moment (1944), “Second Looks,” and The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

11 May

When I lived in Boston, I used to read in the Public Garden, usually in the shadow of a column not too far from the equestrian statue of Washington. Throughout the first autumn I was there, the weather was so nice that I kept dozing off every time I started to read. Eventually I took a closer look at the column – a monument to the discovery of the painkilling properties of ether. So the dozing made sense, I guess.

My understanding of the story behind the studio’s meddling with The Great Moment (gleaned from the magical community that is the TCMParty hashtag) is fairly (I almost said “patently”) obvious throughout. The pace just isn’t a Sturges pace, and it’s clear that a few conversations are joined in medias res but weren’t filmed that way. Things are missing, the tone is uneven. But there’s something about watching the Sturges/Paramount stable get to try something unusual that has its pleasures. For me.

Demarest and McCrea

The man knew his business.

Kudos to William Demarest for doing what he clearly knew to be his job – his repetitive “night of September 30th” story is a highlight, or at least a running gag that works. It’s a tricky proposition for an actor: will I be known for range (Streep, Day-Lewis) or for reliability (everyone in this cast)? Coming from the world of Clown, there’s something really appealing to me about being a Pangborn, a Kibbee or a Hale. No one is ever unhappy to see your face, and after a certain critical mass of exposure/dependability you start to take on an important Brechtian function, becoming a human shorthand character that starts communicating expectations just by showing up (which can then be used or abused as necessary).

As I write this, The Horn Blows at Midnight is still on – Benny just did his brilliant read of the “eight beautiful – nine beautiful – TEN beautiful girls?” line. Like nearly anyone who knows this movie, I knew the jokes at its expense first (one of the first videotapes I ever owned, circa 11 years old, was a pair of Jack Benny Programs from the early 50s, one of which featured Humphrey Bogart and a cheap stab at this movie). Its charms are hard for me to resist or further explain. I will simply sit here quietly, laughing to myself and getting the Fallen Angel Twinges every sixty minutes. Pardon me.

The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

Oh, come on, it’s not THAT bad.

Again, both of these are a result of TCM’s decision to do these “Second Looks” Fridays hosted and curated by Illeana Douglas, who has equaled any (and surpassed most) of the channel’s celebrity programmers. Douglas clearly has a level of enthusiasm, knowledge, and articulation that really hit the sweet spot for an ideal guest host. Here’s hoping they decide to bring her and this feature back on an at least semi-regular basis. It’s nice to have the obscurities treated with the delight and information usually reserved for name pictures and the “problematic” seen as worth watching for all kinds of reasons.